Getting rid of hydrogen

Though most of my company’s business is making hydrogen or purifying it, or consulting about it, we also provide sorbers and membranes that allow a customer to get rid of unwanted hydrogen, or remove it from a space where it is not wanted. A common example is a customer who has a battery system for long-term operation under the sea, or in space. The battery or the metal containment is then found to degas hydrogen, perhaps from a corrosion reaction. The hydrogen may interfere with his electronics, or the customer fears it will reach explosive levels. In one case the customer’s system was monitoring deep oil wells and hydrogen from the well was messing up its fiber optic communications.


Pd-coated niobium screws used to getter hydrogen from electronic packages.

For many of these problems, the simplest solution is an organic hydrogen getter of palladium-catalyst and a labile unsaturated hydrocarbon, e.g. buckminsterfullerene. These hydrogen getters are effective in air or inert gas at temperatures between about -20°C and 150°C. When used in an inert gas the organic is hydrogenated, there is a finite amount of removal per gram of sober. When used in air the catalyst promotes the water-forming reaction, and thus there is a lot more hydrogen removal. Depending on the organic, we can provide gettering to lower temperatures or higher. We’ve a recent patent on an organo-palladium gel to operate to 300°C, suitable for down-well hydrogen removal.

At high temperatures, generally above 100*C, we generally suggest an inorganic hydrogen remover, e.g. our platinum ceria catalyst. This material is suitable for hydrogen removal from air, including from polluted air like that in radioactive waste storage areas. Platinum catalyst works long-term at temperatures between about 0°C and 600°C. The catalyst-sorber also works without air, reducing Ce2O3 to CeO and converting hydrogen irreversibly to water (H2O). As with the organo-Pd getters, there is a finite amount of hydrogen removal per gram when these materials are used in a sealed environment.

Low temperature, Pd-grey coated, Pd-Ag membranes made for the space shuttle to remove hydrogen from the drinking water at room temperature. The water came from the fuel cells.

Low temperature, metal membranes made for NASA to remove H2 from  drinking water at room temperature.

Another high temperature hydrogen removal option is metallic getters, e.g. yttrium or vanadium-titanium alloy. These metals require temperatures in excess of 100°C to be effective, and typically do not work well in air. They are best suited for removing hydrogen a vacuum or inert gas, converting it to metallic hydride. The thermodynamics of hydriding is such that, depending on the material, these getters can extract hydrogen even at temperatures up to 700°C, and at very low hydrogen pressures, below 10-9 torr. For operation in air or at 100-400°C we typically provide these getters coated with palladium to increase the hydrogen sorption rate. A fairly popular product is palladium-coated niobium screws 4-40 x 1/4″. Each screw will remove over 2000 sec of hydrogen at temperatures up to 400°C. We also provide oxygen, nitrogen and water getters. They work on the same principle, but form metallic oxides or nitrides instead of hydrides.

Our last, and highest-end, hydrogen-removal option is to provide metallic membranes. These don’t remove the hydrogen as such, but transfer it elsewhere. We’ve provided these for the space shuttle, and to the nuclear industry so that hydrogen can be vented from nuclear reactors before it has a chance to build up and case damage or interfere with heat transfer. Because nothing is used up, these membranes work, essentially forever. The Fukushima reactor explosions were from corrosion-produced hydrogen that had no acceptable way to vent.

Please contact us for more information, e.g. by phone at 248-545-0155, or check out the various sorbers in our web-siteRobert Buxbaum, May 5, 2014.

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